The P cleaning symbol caused confusion for Diane Hull
The explanations from everyone she quizzed – the retailer, her dry cleaners and others – laid blame on the other party.
Stuck then with the curtains that she had paid almost £300 for, but which were now a shadow of their former glory, Diane asked Crusader to do some sleuthing.
And what a materials minefield we then uncovered where cleaning care symbols in some places meant the opposite somewhere else and one chemical could be known by several different names, leaving much room for confusion.
Rewind though to 2014 and Diane could not have been happier after buying her curtains from made-to-measure furnishings company Hillarys.
Diane turned down an offer of replacement curtains
The circled P means wash with perchloroethylene, according to UK and European standards. The issue is the USA market that uses a different set of standards which are the reverse. All textiles entering the UK market should comply with our labelling.
“This was a treat for me as they cost more than I would normally spend, but the Bird Parade pattern was really beautiful,” she says.
In autumn last year she had them dry-cleaned for the first time. “They were heavy so I left it for as long as I could, then took them to my local dry cleaners,” she continued.
“There was little information except a label with a P sign in circle and a line underneath. When I collected them the fabric had really shrunk so you could see a broad band of lining hanging beneath.
“When I had asked how the curtains were cleaned I was told it was with a solvent called Perchloroethylene – what the P stood for, and the line underneath meant extra care was also needed.
“After the problem I asked other cleaners and was told the same thing about the symbol. I was advised to go back to Hillarys, but they have replied I must take it up with my cleaners.”
In this situation the dry cleaners were blameless
When Crusader contacted Hillarys, it confirmed: “It does unfortunately appear that the dry cleaners that Mrs Hull used are actually at fault here as they have failed to follow the cleaning instructions on the curtain.
“The curtain comes with the symbol P which should be dry cleaned with any solvent except trichloroethylene. They have used perchloroethylene which is also called tetrachloroethylene and trichloroethylene.”
However the company clearly wanted to help the former school dinner lady as a goodwill gesture and although her curtains were no longer sold it offered her a free new pair of equivalent value.
Diane thanked them but said ‘no’ because only dry cleanable ones were available and she had decided to give those a miss for a while.
“Also my curtains were far from new so it does not seem a fair exchange,” she explained, adding, “The cleaners I spoke to seemed so sure about what the symbol meant, it’s very strange.”
It certainly was and when we checked with the UK’s leading dry cleaning and laundry trade body the Textile Services Association (TSA), its chief executive Dr Philip Wright confirmed the opposite to what we had been told about how chemical and how it should be applied, saying:
“The circled P means wash with perchloroethylene, according to UK and European standards.
“The issue is the USA market that uses a different set of standards which are the reverse. All textiles entering the UK market should comply with our labelling.”
Cleaning symbols can appear arcane but it’s always worth knowing what they mean
But confusion can happen when someone buys textiles from overseas, when a manufacture imports textiles but does not change the labelling, or there is a mix-up between different international markets and neither the consumer or cleaner is any the wiser.
So the P symbol, that had seemed so perverse in the information it conveyed, now appears entirely logical in how it operates — in the UK at least.
“If I had had a list of what was in my curtains’ fabric it would have helped, whatever the symbol,” believes Diane who is now having to pay herself to have her curtains altered so the shrinkage does not show.
She says she would welcome a further call from Hillarys in the light of our discoveries.
“I’m so glad Crusader got to the bottom of it,” she added, “and am sure my dry cleaner will be relieved.”
KEEP THIS CLEANING ADVICE GUIDE TO HAND
Prevention is better than fighting for your rights later on, so wising up on what cleaning symbols mean can only help safeguard your belongings when you consign them to the experts.
The TSA’s information site covering the UK and overseas is EXCELLENT, see www.drycleaningadvice.org